From International Socialism (1st series), No.55, February 1973, p.26.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
The French Communist Party versus the Students
Yale University Press, £0.85
Over the last 20 years, there has been a flood of American historical and sociological studies of the European labour movement. The aim was two-fold – the Cold War struggle against Communist ideas and the need to understand the traditions of working-class organisation in countries where US-based multi-nationals were establishing their plants. Nonetheless, there was a serious standard of scholarship and books like Cammett’s Antonio Gramsci and Wohl’s French Communism in the Making can be read with profit by any socialist.
But bourgeois scholarship thrives on stability; it is allergic to the, sound of workers’ feet on the streets. Though Johnson expresses a debt to the earlier generation of scholars, his book on the French CP, the students and the events of May 1968 is a mish-mash of pretentiousness and ignorance.
The bouregois world-view has two explanations for mass action – ‘outside’ agitators and spontaneous irrationality. Johnson is not even consistent – on p.134 he tells us about the ‘seven types’ of Communist agitator (identified in the Iraqi riots of 1947-48 by one Eugene Methvin), while on p.153 student self-defence against riot police becomes displaced ‘aggression toward the overbearing parent’.
As for the French CP, Johnson sees it as controlled by ‘proletarian apparatchiki’, who stifle the bourgeois intellectuals out of an ‘innate feeling of cultural inferiority’. Johnson’s scrupulous use of class categories is shown by the fact that he lists as a ‘bourgeois intellectual’ the Italian Communist Gramsci, who scarcely had a square meal in his life. It would be churlish to add that the systematic misspelling of French names suggests that Johnson’s knowledge of French isn’t up to reading most of the books in his bibliography.
If you want to know about the French CP and intellectuals, read despite its limitations – David Caute’s Communism and the French Intellectuals, but if you want to know about the decline of American scholarship, read this book.
Last updated: 27.1.2008